Nine Songs for the Gallows God
“But some occasions for these names arose in his wanderings; and that matter is recorded in tales. Nor canst thou ever be called a wise man if thou shalt not be able to tell of those great events.” — Gylfaginning, XX
Black the forest,
black the evening sky overhead
and black the clouds that hung low,
promising a storm was near.
Once the traveler’s cloak had been black too,
finely spun and chased along the border
with marvelous designs in thread of gold
as befits a cloak worn by a high-born king.
But the road wearies and wears down;
filthy with dust, patched in many places,
frayed and color leeched to grey
– such was the cloak of the wanderer,
that strange, one-eyed man who came from the woods
amid the cries of a murder of crows
the night the city fell to the spears of the invaders
and its walls burned to smoky rubble.
The head in the well
whose water feeds the roots of the tree
from which the nine worlds grow
that bore the weight of a God making the ultimate sacrifice
for power and for wisdom
– oh the things that head has seen,
the mysteries it contains.
The head is a mask
that must be worn to speak words of true prophecy.
He rides out on a steed with eight legs
like a black spider weaving sinister plots,
like a coffin carried on four men’s backs,
like a hideous nightmare that has hold of you,
and will not let go.
Its hooves are claps of thunder,
rolling across the heavens.
Its panting the gusts of wind
that strike your cheek
and fills your bones with icy dread.
And if you hear the sound of the rider’s horn
calling the restless ghosts to the hunt
they say that you will never laugh again.
A voice in the darkness
swirling through the trees
like the smoke of a traveler’s fire
lit to keep the cold at bay.
Whispering weird words,
myths of a distant time and land
and birth amid fire and blood.
soul roaming abroad frenzied and drunken,
body trembling from the weight of revelation
– this is how real poetry is made,
the wine of the God and his raven’s bread.
Sharp as desire,
strong as a will tested in flame,
piercing hearts and rending flesh,
cruel and uncaring
– the only thing that brings peace
and keeps utter chaos from descending.
Would you expect the God of the spear to be any other way?
His face is harsh
from battles and scheming
and endless wandering of roads.
You don’t come back from death unmarked
and his body is a map of the ordeals that have made him mighty.
But when he smiles and lifts his cup in silent salute
she sees none of that.
He is handsome in the fading light,
and her bed is cold and oh so empty.
She wants the warmth this vagabond king offers
and he wants to give her everything she needs.
It is good to have allies in all the realms.
The runes are screams
born of blood and madness
and a need for knowledge at any price.
They are spirits hungry for use,
old and dark and wise.
They will show you what lies hidden to your sight
– but sacrifices must first be made
before the runes can be taken up.
The king of the forest,
hairy and savage,
feasts on golden honey,
the tribute of the lesser beasts,
and slumbers in the cave of death,
dreaming of the shining realms
during the cold, barren months of winter.
But he comes forth with the flowers of spring
to revel with the trooping hosts
amid songs of joy and gay feasting.
Be careful what you want,
choose your words carefully;
for the old man hears all
and even grants wishes from time to time.
Like King Harald who longed more than anything
for the glory of the battlefield,
for his name to echo down through the ages
like the clash of arms, the shriek of a broadsword
splintering a wooden shield.
Pleased with his offerings the fruit of the gallows came with his bear-shirt on
and tutored Harald in the ways of war,
made him a mighty fighter and leader of men.
He trampled many a foe into the ground,
sacked and plundered all his neighbors’ lands.
His name inspired fear in all who heard it
for he seemed invincible,
like one of the Gods of old and hardly a man any longer.
But no matter how strong we mortals become,
there are those stronger still
and they scheme in ways we will never fully comprehend.
Óski lifted Harald high
so that his fall would seem all the more splendid.
He had no clue when his time came
– he did not notice that the man who drove his chariot that fateful day
had but one eye.
Still, Harald received everything he had been promised,
and then some.
Men still remember his name to this day
on account of what the grey God did for him.